It started with a boating outing two years ago.
Now, Chattanooga entrepreneur Chris Hampton and his business partner, Mike Johnson, have created a manufacturing and franchise business that’s all about fun on the water.
After selling their product-a mobile floating water park small enough to be a boat-across the world, they launched Jungle Float locally last week.
A couple of summers ago, Hampton was out boating with his three kids, who were jumping around.
He found himself wishing they had proper platforms to jump on-something meant for bouncing and playing.
He envisioned a trampoline on a boat with different levels and platforms. So he started sketching and talking to his trusted friend Johnson, who is an experienced welder.
The duo worked together to create a 3-D model and then a prototype of what would become their new product and business, Tarzan Boat. (They’ve since changed the name to Jungle Float.)
They made a video of the product that went viral and prompted calls from around the world, including from entrepreneurial television show “Shark Tank.”
“I’m kind of an idea guy,” said Hampton, who owned and operated Chattanooga’s Vaudeville Café for 15 years. “For years, I’ve done all kinds of wacky ideas; some work and some don’t.”
Hampton said he thought there would be a positive response to his creation, but he didn’t imagine it was going to blow up like it did.
Flash-forward two years. Hampton and Johnson have been “selling them like crazy.”
“We’ve improved them over the last year and a half,” Hampton said.
They’ve also changed the name to Jungle Float after finding out that calling it a “boat” created regulatory problems in other countries because there are stringent requirements for certifications of boats.
But this product isn’t a boat. It has a motor, but only to get it out to the water; otherwise, it isn’t meant to move.
After about two years of selling the floats around the world, the duo built one for Chattanooga, which opened last week.
Until recently, it hadn’t been ideal to have one here, because the floats are expensive to make. So when someone wants to buy one, it makes business sense to sell it.
But the business leaders decided now was the time to have one in Chattanooga, where they are manufactured in a factory near Chester Frost Park on Hixson Pike.
There are between six and 10 employees in the factory, where the product is welded and tested.
The local factory creates all the needed pieces for the product, and when one is sold, an employee generally goes to the location and supervises the process of piecing it together, Hampton said.
“[Johnson] is kind of the tech brains of this,” Hampton said. “I’m the wild, crazy, impulsive one. He doesn’t trust factories to make it. We can’t really put this in anyone else’s hands.”
The Jungle Float is available for private rental and open play.
Businesses or parties can rent the float, and the cost ranges from $250 to $750, depending on how long it’s used and if it’s booked at a peak time.
Private parties can book the float either at Chester Frost or Chickamauga Dam.
“I want this to be affordable for everyone,” Hampton said. “Someone could pick a Tuesday night [which isn’t peak time], and it’s a little cheaper.”
There’s space for 40 people to enjoy it, Hampton said.
This summer, there will also be open play hours in which people can use the float for $10 an hour.
While Hampton prefers strong swimmers, the float is generally safe for all ages, and the company provides life vests.
“I love that this appeals to the 5-year-olds as much as the 55-year-olds,” he said.
Hampton and Johnson have created a franchise and sold the floats across the world-from Orange Beach, Alabama, to Seattle to Australia to Aruba. Mitt Romney also purchased one for personal use, according to the business’ website.
And Hampton said part of what he loves about his company is the chance to provide business opportunities to others.
“It’s a dream business to operate, with low overhead,” he said.
Potential owners can buy the float for $64,000. There are no franchise, advertising or other fees, as well as no required contract, and the purchaser retains 100 percent ownership.
The floats aren’t cheap to make, but Hampton said he wants to offer others the opportunity to have a successful business using his product.
“A lot of people can swing a $65,000 loan to start a new business,” he said. “I like the fact that we change people’s lives this way.”
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